The surgical management of thoracic disc disease remains challenging. Outcomes after laminectomy had been poor, and modern posterolateral, lateral, and anterior approaches have evolved to replace this older procedure. Each has its own set of complications, and all are hampered, to varying degrees, by the limited visualization of the ventral disc space and spinal cord during decompression. The authors present their early experience with computer-assisted image guidance as an adjunctive tool for preoperative planning and navigation in the treatment of thoracic disc disease. Five consecutive patients underwent image-guided costotransversectomies between January 1999 and April 2000. The levels of herniation were T8–9 in three and T7–8 and T5–6, respectively, in the other two. There were four centrolateral herniations and one midline herniation. Three discs were soft and two hard. Two patients had previously undergone failed disc excisions. All patients had axial pain and myeloradiculopathies preoperatively. Three were unable to walk.
Four patients enjoyed good or excellent outcomes, with return of ambulation. One patient experienced only mild improvement in her severe paraparesis. Image-guidance was invaluable in planning the corpectomy and aiding visualization in situations in which the dura or disc were obscured; its use allowed successful surgical excisions in the most challenging circumstances.